The latest findings which were revealed this week to the United Nations General Assembly highlight the increasing alarm with regards to the human rights records in the Islamic Republic. The new report is provided by United Nations human rights investigator Ahmad Shaheed, who was a former diplomat from the Maldives and currently special rapporteur on human rights issues in the Islamic Republic
The recent U.N. report came a day after Shaheed expressed his shock in relation to the execution of an Iranian woman on Saturday. Reyhaneh Jabbari was 26-years-old and in an Iranian prison for allegedly killing the man who raped her. The alleged rapist, Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi, was a former employee in Iran’s intelligence ministry.
President Hassan Rowhani was partially elected by the majority of Iranian people as a moderate candidate who would potentially promote civil liberties, social justice, and individual freedomsMajid Rafizadeh
Shaheed particularly raised concerns with regards to due process and fairness of her trail in the judiciary system. Jabbari’s death sentence sparked an international outcry, specifically from the European Union, the United States, and human rights groups which condemned the sentence and asked President Hassan Rowhani to revoke the execution.
The structural surge in human rights violations
The surge in human rights abuses appears to have been carried out on several arenas. First of all, there has been an alarming increase in the number of prison and public executions in comparison to last year. The period of this surge in executions and human rights violations is during Rowhani’s time in office.
In 2012, under the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the recorded number of executions was 580 people. This indicates that there has been an increase of approximately 45 percent in executions under the presidency of Rowhani. In 2013, 687 people were executed.
In addition, the range of charges for executing Iranian citizens appears to have been widened. The legal reasons behind executions include political, economic, human rights activism, and drug trafficking. Addressing a General Assembly human rights committee this week, Shaheed stated: “a surge in executions in the country over the past 12-15 months.” Shaheed added, “at least 852 individuals were executed in the period since June of last year, including eight juveniles.”
The second human rights violation is targeted at those who are engaged in freedom of information, particularly journalists. In addition, other reporters such as bloggers, Facebook users, and people who are active on social media have been restricted as well. The number of journalists who have been detained in the Islamic Republic has also ratcheted up. According to Shaheed, there are currently 35 journalists under detention in Iran.
The third phenomenon appears to represent concerns regarding the persecution of religious minorities including the Christians, Sunnis, Dervishes, and Baha’i community. Currently, 120 people of the Baha’i community, as well as 49 Christians, are being documented to be in prison in Iran, solely for religious practices it seems. Some members of the Arab community, characterized as “cultural rights activists”, as well as juveniles have also been handed the death sentence.
The fourth category of human rights abuses is linked to the restrictions and deterioration of women’s rights in the Islamic Republic. For example, the Iranian government has also imposed quota on the admission of Iranian girls to universities. According to the U.N. human rights report, the number of Iranian women enrolled at universities have come down to 48 percent.
Hassan Rowhani and Iran’s international image
The timing of the increase in human rights violations is intriguing for several reasons. President Hassan Rowhani was partially elected by the majority of Iranian people as a moderate candidate who would potentially promote civil liberties, social justice, and individual freedoms (including freedom of speech, assembly and press).
In addition, the recent U.N. report, as well as the wave of acid attacks against Iranian women, and the execution of Jabbari comes at a time that Rowhani is at his final stages to seal a comprehensive nuclear deal with the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States).
Nevertheless, it is crucial to point out that based on the Iran’s constitution, presidents have minimal power over such developments in domestic affairs. The four crucial institutions are the Judiciary system (which is dominated by hardliners), Iran’s governmental vigilante groups, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, and the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Politically speaking, Iran’s Supreme Leader does enjoy a final say over all the decision made by any of the aforementioned governmental institutions. And historically speaking, whenever Iran has been led by a moderate or reformist president, these institutions and the hardliners have tightened up their control of power over the society, freedom of information, civil liberties, and political and economic freedoms.
As the nuclear talks continues, the latest events and surge in human rights abuses appear to have some impact on the Islamic Republic’s international image as well as President Rowhani’s moderate platform and slogan of “the government of prudence and hope.”
Notwithstanding the aforementioned issues, one of the key questions is whether these developments will have an impact on Iran’s nuclear negotiations. Based on examinations of Iran’s nuclear file of the over a decade, It is very unlikely that six world powers including the United States and European ones include the human rights issue or draw attention to these phenomena during the nuclear talks. In other words, civil liberties and human rights have not been on the top of the six powers’ foreign policy agenda when it comes to nuclear negotiations with Iran.
Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar at Harvard University, is president of the International American Council and he serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh served as a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC. He is also a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University and Harvard scholar. He is originally from the Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at email@example.com.